March 16, 2015 |

Managing Part-timers

By David La Martina

LolaHelloPizza_vertHiring, scheduling and retaining a predominantly part-time staff

Are your part-time employees as productive, reliable and loyal as your full-timers? With so many workers holding down multiple jobs, younger employees balancing work and school and the economy making it tough to provide full-time benefits, a predominantly part-time staff is often a pizzeria’s best bet. “The healthcare law is also making it more feasible to hire part-timers right now,” says Jan Ferri-Reed, president of Key Group, a Pittsburgh-based consulting and management training company. While you may not be able to provide the bulk of your staff with healthcare, paid time off and other pricey perks, you can improve their satisfaction –– and your bottom line –– by treating them with the same respect and expectations as your full-timers.

Building a great part-time staff begins with the hiring process and Ferri-Reed says “most employers make mistakes when they approach part-time employees. They tend to be lax when it comes to punctuality and commitment, but all the high performance standards to which you hold full-time employees should be just as stringent for part-time employees.”

Mike Morgan, Pizza Guys vice president and franchisee, agrees. “The part-time person is still going to affect the service of the store the same way a full-time person would,” he says.

Still, over-qualification can be just as big a problem. “The cornerstone for hiring part-time workers is to not hire people who need a job, but people who need this job,” says Morgan. “I’m not going to hire a more qualified person who’s looking for something more than I can offer because they’re not going to be happy in the long term.” Overqualified part-timers may do a great job at first, but their performance often wanes as they focus more on new career opportunities than the tasks at hand.

Also, while age can influence an employee’s attitude and experience, it can’t provide a complete picture of a candidate. “Don’t think about age so much as performance and work ethic. You have to ask everyone some hard questions,” says De Sawa, human capital services manager at TriNet, an HR solutions provider. Part-time candidates’ long-term goals may differ from full-timers’, but hiring them is still a matter of matching their skills, experience and expectations with your shop’s requirements and culture.

To that end, a discussion of scheduling requirements and available hours should also begin during the hiring process. “Newer managers have a perception that part-time schedules can be more malleable, but the reality is these people need stability, too,” says Morgan. Part-timers’ second jobs, families and other responsibilities require consistent workdays and hours, and irregular changes will inevitably lead to call-offs. On the other hand, “Providing steady hours leads to loyalty,” says Sawa. Turnover can be high among part-time employees, but you can prevent it by providing steady schedules with hours that don’t fluctuate so much there are weeks they can’t rely on a paycheck.

If that seems unfeasible, consider cross-training. “It’s a great way to provide consistent hours and allow those part-time employees to feel like they fit within the organization,” says Sawa. As tempting as it may be to use part-timers to fill in irregular schedule gaps, employees trained on a variety of tasks can prevent those gaps from forming in the first place. Instead of scheduling several part-timers for brief, narrowly focused shifts, you can have a few of them perform wide varieties of tasks for longer hours.

Aside from cross-training for specific tasks, overall career development is also more important for part-timers than many managers realize. “It’s a mistake to treat them differently in terms of training and development, and you need to approach every employee as if they’re the most important person who’s ever worked for your company,” says Morgan. In an industry where 20-hour-per-week jobs are easy to find, you can avoid turnover by helping part-timers develop the skills critical to their careers later in life. “Many individuals are in the restaurant industry for the short term, but they can be trained to enhance their professional growth, particularly in customer service,” adds Sawa.

Even with a well-trained, reliable group of part-timers, there are still a few management challenges to overcome when they comprise the bulk of your workforce. “It’s already a challenge to share information between shifts, and sharing that info among a larger group of part-timers is even more difficult,” says Ferri-Reed. Changes in procedure and equipment must be communicated clearly through the chain of command, and written policies can go a long way in keeping everyone compliant.

Maintaining a sense of community can also be more difficult. “A lot of pizza shops have embedded themselves in their communities and have built families of employees, and it’s easy to lose some of that team spirit,” says Ferri-Reed. To maintain the culture established by management and other full-time employees, she recommends crossover shifts and team meetings to ensure everyone in the shop gets to know each other and the regular customers.

Despite these challenges, a mainly part-time staff isn’t just feasible for most pizza shops –– it may actually be preferable. “The pizza business is inherently heavy at certain times of day, and most of us have a high threshold of people we need to be part-time,” says Morgan. “If you’re honest with your part-timers and treat them as well as your full-time employees, they’re going to work hard for you.”


Full-Time Loyalty

A primarily part-time workforce shouldn’t lead to poor performance or high turnover. With the right management strategies, you can gain the same loyalty from your part-timers as you enjoy from your full-time employees. A few pointers:

  • Play the numbers game. You’ll need to sift through several prospects to find a part-timer who suits your business. “We try to get an interview to hire ratio of seven to ten,” says Mike Morgan, Pizza Guys vice president and a franchisee.
  • Explain the benefits. With so many part-time restaurant jobs available, transferable job skills, customer service experience and other ancillary benefits are necessary to retain top-quality employees.
  • Provide perks. Your part-timers probably aren’t getting healthcare or vacation time, but shift meals, free drinks, gift cards and other small rewards can go a long way in keeping them happy.
  • Don’t skimp. Relying heavily on part-timers means you might need to pay them more than other restaurants in your area. “Your pay scale should be slightly higher because these individuals can jump ship very quickly,” says De Sawa, human capital services manager at TriNet.

David LaMartina is a Kansas City-based freelance copywriter who specializes in the finance, food and health industries.